Boris Johnson Is Having A Bad Day On The Campaign Trail

Trailed by the smell of fish on his private jet, the PM faces awkward questions on the NHS, grabs a reporter's phone, and claims not to know about Tory disinformation.

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Boris Johnson ventured deep into Labour heartlands on Monday in a final campaign push before election day – and, as on previous visits to the north, things began to unravel pretty quickly for the prime minister.

He faced awkward questions over a boy forced to sleep on an NHS hospital floor and Tory disinformation; he was confronted by protesters in Andrew Neil masks and criticism for taking a sub-30 minute flight; and he was followed around by the smell of fish all day having spent the morning in Grimsby fish market.

So where did it all go wrong?

‘Chicken’ and fish

Johnson was in the top Tory target seat of Great Grimsby for a pre-dawn visit to the town’s fish market.

But the early start didn’t deter a hardy band of protesters who decided they were going to show up in freezing conditions wearing Andrew Neil masks and holding pictures of chickens to mock the PM’s refusal to submit to an interview with the BBC veteran – unlike the other party leaders.

Johnson eventually got the photo he wanted inside as he paraded around with a big fish.

Unfortunately, the stench of the market followed him around all day as things began to go downhill.

An apology

Johnson then began his media engagements on the back foot as news spread that a four-year-old boy had been forced to sleep on the floor of a hospital A&E department.

Jack Williment-Barr was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) with suspected pneumonia, and ended up sleeping on a pile of coats amid bed shortages.

Johnson told LBC’s Nick Ferrari he was apologising to Jack and every NHS patient who had a “bad experience”.

But he also appeared to try to shift blame for the loss of 15,000 hospital beds away from his Tory party, insisting he was presiding over “a new government with a new approach”.

‘You’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, prime minister’

Things went from bad to bizarre as Johnson refused to look at a photo of Jack hooked up to an oxygen mask, sleeping under a coat.

Johnson refused three times to view the image on ITV reporter Joe Pike’s phone, before grabbing the mobile from the reporter’s hand and putting it in his pocket.

Only when challenged by Pike did Johnson finally get the phone out and look at what he described as a “terrible, terrible photo”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth criticised the PM’s actions, and said: “Refusing to even look at an image of a child suffering because of Conservative cuts to the NHS is a new low for Boris Johnson. It’s clear he could not care less.

“Don’t give this disgrace of a man five more years of driving our NHS into the ground. Sick toddlers like Jack deserve so much better.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock was later despatched to the LGI to try and defuse the situation, where he said he was “horrified” by Jack’s treatment and apologised to the boy’s family.

“It’s not good enough and I’ve apologised,” Hancock said.

“I think the trust have handled it very well. The staff here have been brilliant.

“Jack’s family have been at pains to point out that the staff have been absolutely superb.”

Boris airways

Boris Johnson boards his plane at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster to fly to Teesside
Boris Johnson boards his plane at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster to fly to Teesside
PA Wire/PA Images

Leaving Grimsby, Johnson faced charges of hypocrisy as he chose to take a private jet from Robin Hood airport in Doncaster to Teesside airport in Darlington – a 25-minute flight for a journey that takes less than an hour by train.

The PM has talked about planting millions of trees, boosting animal welfare and cutting carbon emissions since the election was triggered, in an effort to boost his green credentials.

But critics rounded on his decision to use one of the most environmentally damaging forms of transport for a relatively short journey from Yorkshire to County Durham.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “How can Boris Johnson say he is committed to bringing down emissions when he’s prepared to take unnecessary and environmentally damaging flights?”

‘Shouldn’t you know what’s going on?’

Taking off from Doncaster, Johnson had joked about the “pungent aroma” of the fish from the Grimsby market.

And his stinking day continued in Washington as he was challenged by voter Paige Hood on Tory disinformation during the election campaign.

The 25 year-old was quizzing the PM about the Tories’ election ploy to buy the website and use it to attack the policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

The website accuses Labour of promising “higher taxes” with “no plan for Brexit” and the Tories reportedly paid to have it placed at the top of Google rankings so it was the first item returned if someone searched “Labour”.

Hood asked Johnson: “If Labour and their manifesto don’t scare Conservatives, why then was a fake website set up and [the Tories] paid Google to put [it] above Labour’s website so people can’t even find what they are looking for?”

Johnson was then heard sighing as Hood repeated the question, before replying: “The short answer to that question is I haven’t got the foggiest idea.”

Audience members and reporters then challenged Johnson, who described complaints over disinformation as a “media diversion”.

Hood then tried to quiz Johnson again, asking: “Shouldn’t you know what’s going on?”

Speaking to reporters after, Hood said she wasn’t impressed with Johnson’s answer, adding: “It was so empty.”

“It’s either that he doesn’t know and he should know what on earth is going on in his own [party] or he knew about it and lied again,” she said.

And Johnson’s day came full circle after the young mother revealed she and her young son had twice been turned away from A&E in the last week following five hour waits.

Hospital staff had said the boy had a viral infection. But, when he was finally seen, “his eardrum was nearly bursting because it was a severe ear infection which had just been ignored because A&E just don’t have the staff and the time,” said a clearly emotional Hood.

“It really scares me [...] if it was more serious,” she added.

Asked what she thought about the Tories’ pledge to spend an extra £20.5bn on the NHS in real terms, Hood replied: “No one should believe that. I don’t understand why anyone would believe that he would spend the money on the NHS when they’ve been in power nine years and they haven’t.”

Deli or no deli

One final event was over before it had even begun: the Conservatives cancelled a planned appearance by the prime minister at a delicatessen in Bishop Auckland over safety fears because Labour activists had gathered outside the venue.


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